December 31, 2015

The year ends with both ups and downs

Lamentations 4:1–5:22, Romans 16:1–27, Proverbs 31:10–31

Jeremiah’s lament for his people ends this reading and this year. He describes God’s judgment on the sins of the prophets and priests, how they wandered blind through the streets, defiled and untouchable, fugitives and cast out. “The Lord himself has scattered them; he will regard them no more; no honor was shown to the priests, no favor to the elders.” (Lamentations 4:16)

But these spiritual leaders were not the only ones who had been shipwrecked. Jeremiah also wrote, “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! For this our heart has become sick, for these things our eyes have grown dim, for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it.”

Then he ends with a cry to God: “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.” (Lamentations 5:15–22)

One characteristic of my spiritual gift is that I easily see the dark side of things and am quick to be personally convicted of sin. Like Jeremiah, I always see what is wrong with me and have trouble keeping my focus on God’s blessings. For that, I crave the company of those who look on the bright side of life, and who find it easier to remember the goodness of God and the power of His grace. 

I also need the Word of God to remind me of how His grace has transformed my life. For instance, In Proverbs 31, God describes an excellent wife who is far more precious than jewels, and some of that description He has made true of me (which makes me semi-precious! :-))

I provide food for my household, make investments and use the profits wisely. I exercise and keep fit, work hard and give to the poor. I am “not afraid of snow for (my) household” because our clothing is warm and I make “bed coverings” (quilts) for us too. (Proverbs 31:15–22)

While I can feel weak and am sometimes silly, God gives me “strength and dignity” and the faith to “laugh at the time to come.” I seek His wisdom and kindness, and my hubby says that I “look well to the ways of (our) household” and am never idle. Our children bless me, and so does my husband. This is all because of Christ.

I’m so glad that He has taught me to fear the Lord and that He “gives me of the fruit of my hands, and lets my works be praised.” (Proverbs 31:25–31)

This last section of Romans also highlights a few women that Paul commended, giving me encouragement as part of God’s family and a member of His church. Paul commended “Phoebe, a servant of the church” and told his readers to “welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

He sent greetings to Prisca and her husband Aquila, his fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for his life, and “Mary, who has worked hard for you.” He wrote of the mother of Rufus, “who has been a mother to me as well.” (Romans 16:6, 13)

Paul’s last words present goals for me as well as encouragement. My obedience need to increase. I need to increase in being “wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” knowing that perfection will not be achieved in this life, but I could do better.

His last promise is deeply desired in my life as spiritual warfare never seems to slow down. Paul writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:19–20)

I’d love to crust that liar under my feet and for that hope, I am thankful. I can say with the apostle, “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Thus ends the devotional readings from Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan by John D. Barry and Rebecca Kruyswijk, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

December 30, 2015

Even in sorrow, God is here

Lamentations 3:1–66, Romans 15:22–33, Proverbs 31:1–19

A lament is an expression of sorrow or regret. Jeremiah, who had done nothing wrong, still felt great sorrow at the sin and lack of repentance in Israel, and for the chastening they experienced.

He wrote these poetic and sad words: “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long . . . . He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.” (Lamentations 3:1–3, 7–9)

His response to Israel’s situation shows how much he cared about God’s people and identified with their pain. “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’” (Lamentations 3:16–18)

I’ve felt like that at times, certainly not to the same depth, but when I watch others whom I care about struggle because they are caught up in sin, I feel hopeless. If it happens to be me who is the one who is trapped, my hopelessness is acute. However, there is hope. God never gives up on His people. He never gives up on me. Like Jeremiah, I need to remember truth and call it to mind.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord . . . . For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:21–26, 31–33)

Like Jeremiah, I also need to remember my part in this lament. Good and bad come from God. Therefore, “Why should (anyone) complain . . . about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” (Lamentations 3:38–41)

While God uses Jeremiah to speak to me, He also uses the readings from Proverbs and from the New Testament. I’m encouraged that my role in life as a wife and homemaker is important to God. In a day when independence is admired and competition reigns between many couples, God’s Word still stands. He says, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:10–12)

For the past few years, I’ve felt useless to God in some ways. I’ve been studying and He has been at work in my heart, yet I’ve not had a class to teach or any specific church role. Being a homemaker most of the time does give me opportunity to spend more time in prayer, which is important to me.

This also is important to God and to His people. Paul wrote: “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:30–33)

Praying for others, for the success of their ministry, and for peace in their hearts is just as important as the more visible ministries Christians can do. I’m even thankful for the spiritual battles that come to those who pray, as they most certain did in Jeremiah’s life. I’m thankful that my home and personal life and usually filled with peace, and I’m thankful that I can talk to God, the Creator of the universe and the One who rules over all. He is available even though there are times it seems otherwise and He assures all His people that He will never leave us or forsake us. 

December 29, 2015

Our need – God’s supply

Lamentations 1:1–2:22, Romans 15:8–21, Proverbs 30:1–33

In 586 B.C. after God’s people were taken into captivity, Jeremiah expressed his deep sorrow over their fall into sin and the result of that fall. He speaks of their loneliness and how the city that was once great became like a widow, even like a slave. Jerusalem weeps bitterly with no one to comfort her; her friends have become her enemies. (Lamentations 1:1–2)

Further, the enemy has taken her precious things by entered her sanctuary where God had forbidden them to enter. Her people searched for bread (during the two year siege) and traded their treasures for food, crying out to God that they are despised. (Lamentations 1:10–11)

They also found themselves bound as by a yoke, with failing strength as they were given “into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand” and rejected by the Lord and crushed, “trodden as in a winepress.” (Lamentations 1:14–15)

Sometimes we must break before we can be rebuilt. Sometimes we must fall before we can rise to the greatness God has called us to. Certainly these people were broken. They cried out to God saying, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and see my suffering; my young women and my young men have gone into captivity. I called to my lovers, but they deceived me; my priests and elders perished in the city, while they sought food to revive their strength. Look, O Lord, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death. They heard my groaning, yet there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it. You have brought the day you announced; now let them be as I am.” (Lamentations 1:18–21)

Jeremiah saw the anger of the Lord as He “cast down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel” and he told the people, “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.” (Lamentations 2:19)

This is a sad and brutal time. Babies and children become food for their starving parents during the siege, a story of human depravity that demonstrates how much humanity needs God, how much we need a Savior.

Solomon did not write all of the Proverbs. Agur also expresses the root of human depravity: “I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.” (Proverbs 30:1–3)

He goes on to describe how we sinners resist God. Even though “every word of God proves true” and “He is a shield to those who take refuge in him” we “add to His words” and “are clean in (our) own eyes but are not washed of (our) filth.” (Proverbs 30:5–6, 12) 
Without the grace and mercy of God, we are like Jerusalem. Without the redemption that is found in Jesus Christ, we would also be given over to our enemies and perish in our sin.

This is the dark side of spiritual reality. The bright side is Jesus Christ. In Him we have forgiveness and new life. In Him we can start over, serving God with His power instead of our own. God has accomplished this for us; our part is to believe Him.

When we do, the “God of hope fills (us) with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit (we) may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) What a far cry from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Paul could declare our hope, even that, “In Christ Jesus, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.”

The Apostle denied pride and did not depend on or boast of himself, refusing “to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed.” His rejoicing was in “the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.” (Romans 15:17–19)

There are days when I feel like Jerusalem. I’ve failed to bow to God and He chastens me. In that, I also know the humility of Agur. How foolish is sin, and how miserable I am apart from trusting the Lord in all things. Yet by grace, God gives me moments when I can relate to Paul’s hope and joy. In Christ Jesus, I can see the power of God in my life. May the former days decrease, even disappear, and those moments of blessing increasingly become hours and days that mark the work of the Holy Spirit in me.

December 28, 2015

True or false condemnation

Jeremiah 52:1–34, Romans 14:13–15:7, Proverbs 29:1–27

The Christmas carols speak of peace on earth and good will among men, yet that is rare. The earth hasn’t known much peace. Even good will can be a scarce commodity.

Good will did not exist between the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, and God’s prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah continued to warn the king, but this king would not listen. The result was just as Solomon wrote: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” (Proverbs 29:1)

God broke Zedekiah by sending the Babylonian army to besiege Jerusalem. After two horrid years with no access to food, the fighting men of Judah created an escape plan out of the city and fled with the king. But the Babylonians captured him brought him to their king.

There Zedekiah was sentenced: “The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in chains, and the king of Babylon took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.” (Jeremiah 52:7–11)

God’s judgment is harsh, yet disobedience is never a light matter. Besides, sin is a harsh taskmaster, not looking out for our good like God wanted for Zedekiah.

Human judgment can be harsh too. Sometimes I deserve it, but I am confounded when on the receiving side of human judgment without being guilty. If another person says something that felt like a judgmental shot, I am usually silent and without any defense.

Today’s NT reading is about the problem of Christians judging others who are not guilty of sin in their own minds, only in the minds of someone else. It begins: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13)

In this example, the issue was about eating something offered to idols. Some had no problem with that, but others did. Paul writes to the latter saying, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:17–19)

God is concerned that His people live in peace and build up one another. Some of us can be more concerned to point out the shortcomings of others, even shortcomings that exist only in our own minds and are not actual.  

Paul also spoke to those who ate food offered to idols and felt no guilt: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22–23)

In other words, if I am doing something that others criticize or call sin, I need to be certain that my actions happen because I am trusting God and that I am not ignorant of what God regarding those actions..

God says we are to please others for their good and to build them up because Christ was not into pleasing Himself. I’m to be like Jesus. Besides that, slander, accusations and insults all fell on Him, so when that happens to me, I can take comfort in that He knows exactly how I feel. (Romans 15:2–3)

This passage says that God does not want me to be “a cause for stumbling or a temptation” for people who genuinely struggle with things that I feel free to do, yet they are not to accuse me of sin when they would be guilty if they did the same thing.

For example, a man had an obsession with baseball to the point that his family suffered because his time and money went toward this obsession. After he became a Christian, he was strongly convinced that baseball was a sin for him and cut off all involvement. One day, two Christian friends invited him to a game. He was horrified. For them, watching baseball was a freedom, but for him it was a sin.

While people usually agree about many things, or can agree to disagree, kindness and understanding are more important than who is right. If another person disagrees with the way I do things, the Bible tells me to be mindful of where they are coming from, accepting and understanding their perspective.

I also need to remember that “Christ also has accepted (me).” (Romans 15:7). I have been reconciled to God through faith. Therefore, I should never let any accusations of a person with weaker faith trip me up and make me feel condemned.